Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Insects of the Pacific Rim

J. Linsley Gressitt (and here) was an incredibly productive (some might say workaholic) man. I've heard stories of him typing up manuscripts on military aircraft that weren't the quietest or smoothest of rides. He was passionate about the insect fauna of the Asia-Pacific region and published a lot on the taxonomy and biogeography of several groups, and established the Wau Ecology Institute which has been an important centre for much research on the natural history of PNG.

It is fitting then that one of the finest collections of South Pacific insects is named after the man. The J. L. Gressitt Centre for Research in Entomology is housed at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii and houses over 14 million specimens, many of which were collected by the man himself. They've recently got themselves an automontage facility, and have begun putting spectacular photos of South Pacific insects online (such as the PNG brentid weevil above). Check out the Solomon Island staphylinids as well... They say they're going to put up something new each week. I really hope they do, because the photos are pretty cool.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Pacific trade statistics

I am not an economist, nor have I ever considered becoming one. But sometimes a man just HAS to know about the exports, imports and trade of South Pacific island nations and when he does, here's a few sites to check out...

The Pacific Economic Monitor is a quarterly publication of the Asian Development Bank that describes the current economic climate of the Pacific Islands. It started at the beginning of this year, and contains a lot of information if you know what it's talking about.

The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat has a couple of pages on regional and international trade, and has a large, serious document that discusses Pacific regional trade and economic cooperation.

The Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commission NZ is an organisation that promotes trade between New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. They have a statistics page.

Polynesian plant names

I have recently come across a mighty tome. The Dictionary of Polynesian Plant Names by Karl Rensch and Arthur Whistler weighs in at over 700 pages in length and contains a mighty amount of information on what species of plant are called what names on what island or island group in the Pacific.

While essentially it is just a list of names, it also contains some fascinating tidbits of information regarding cultural use of the plants. For example we find that Cordia subcordata, known as tauanave in Samoa is a highly-valued timber tree used for canoes and household implements.
We also discover that mafa'i in Tongan refers to the cucurbit Luffa cylindrica var. insularum, a creeper whose fruit makes a good sponge. The relative value of each of the plants is also shown by the number of names given to each plant, with Finderlist 2 show

This book is obviously a book that is the result of much scholarship and research by the authors. No doubt it is also a labour of love, with both authors having much experience in the South Pacific. A reference work of great value for biologists, linguists and anybody interested in the interaction of people and their environment in Polynesia. Unfortunately, it appears to be privately published, and thus is hard to obtain. If anyone knows where to get it from, let the rest of us know...

Rensch KH, Whistler AW. 2008. Dictionary of Polynesian Plant Names. Archipelago Press, Canberra. 723 pp

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Colour matching feature in R

I love R. It is an open-source statistical programming language that I found reasonably easy to learn, and find it incredibly versatile and useful. Because it's open-source anyone can contribute to it, and there are a huge number of packages that extend its capabilities to do pretty much anything.

I've been using it to do Principal Components Analysis on some colour data that I measured from photos of some Carpophilus specimens, and was trying to figure out how to relate the RGB values I got from the photos to actual names. R has in its core packages a colors() function with a lot of names assigned to particular RGB values. Thankfully, Barry Rowlingson has come up with a very nice little function that figures out which colour names the RGB value is closest to:

nearColour <- function(r,g,b){
ctable = col2rgb(colors())
cdiff = ctable - c(r,g,b)
cdist = cdiff[1,]*cdiff[1,]+cdiff[2,]*cdiff[2,]+cdiff[3,]*cdiff[3,]
return(colors()[cdist == min(cdist)])
Pretty useful for standardising colour names!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Pacific Science issues online

Pacific Science is a quarterly journal published by the University of Hawaii Press in conjunction with the Pacific Science Association. First published in 1947, it is one of the longest running peer-reviewed science periodicals that is focussed primarily on the South Pacific region. As such, it is an excellent resource for those of us interested in the region.

PDFs of all back issues published prior to the year 2000 are available free of charge from this website. Unfortunately, the search function leaves a lot to be desired, but it is extremely useful if you know what you're looking for, and very interesting to have a browse through.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Biologia Centrali-Americana online version

The full text and plates of Biologia Centrali-Americana can be found online here. While it's not Pacific-focussed it is an extremely interesting and informative document with a whole lot of valuable plates, such as this one. With three volumes worth of weevil stuff, and a decent section on Carpophilus, I will be spending a bit of time here I think...

While on the topic of Caribbean fauna, Father Sanchez's website has a lot of very good photos of a huge range of the flora and fauna of the Puerto Rico. He's a Catholic priest, and his passion for both Christ and nature is really inspiring.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Pacific species described in Genus

Eastern European taxonomists are prolific. Over the past couple of years, a few have described a fair number of Pacific Island species of scydmaenid leaf beetles, jumping spiders in the journal Genus, published by the Polish Taxonomical Society.

These include nine species of Galerucinae from New Caledonia, the jumping spiders Lagnus monteithorum from Fiji and Phintella caledoniensis from New Caledonia, and thee scydmaenid beetles from New Guinea: Paraneseuthia guineana, P. devia and Cephennodes papuanus.

All of these papers are rather standard and dry (unless you're really into the taxa!) taxonomic papers, but there's some pretty cool photos in the spider papers....

Beenen R. 2008. Contribution to the knowledge of Galerucinae of New Caledonia (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Genus 19(1): 65-87

Jałoszyński P. 2008. First record of the occurrence of Eutheiini and Cephenniini in New
Guinea, with descriptions of new species of Paraneseuthia Franz and Cephennodes Reitter
(Coleoptera: Scydmaenidae). Genus 19(1): 37-44

Jałoszyński P. 2009. Paraneseuthia guineana n. sp. from Indonesian part of New Guinea
(Coleoptera: Scydmaenidae). Genus 20(1): 23-26

Patoleta B. 2008. Description of a new species of Lagnus L. Koch, 1879 from Fiji archipelago (Araneae: Salticidae). Genus 19(4): 717-720

Patoleta B. 2009. Description of a new species of Phintella Strand in Bösenberg et Strand, 1906 from New Caledonia (Araneae: Salticidae). Genus 20(3): 539-543

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Bat flies of the Pacific

I didn't realise that there were bat-flies in the Pacific. I had never actually thought about them until I came across an old paper by one B. Jobling in the library on the bat fly family Streblidae. Turns out, there's a good number of species in the region: 15 according to the Australasian and Oceanian Diptera Catalog. Some of them have rather large ranges--Brachytarsina amboinensis is found from India and Okinawa, through the Philippines and Indonesia to Australia and New Caledonia.

While it seems that for the most part, bat flies tend to move from host to host with abandon, there are some which are only found on a single bat species. Brachytarsina buxtoni from Fiji and Samoa is only found on Emballonura semicaudata, while B. rouxi from New Caledonia is only found on Notopteris neocaledonica. Jobling reckons this is because these bats roost separately, preventing these species from colonising other bat species.

Jobling B. 1951. A record of the Streblidae from the Philippines and other Pacific Islands, including morphology of the abdomen, host-parasite relationship and geographical distribution, and and with descriptions of five new species (Diptera). Transactions of the Royal Entomological Society of London 102(4): 211-246

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Featured insect: Eucurtiopsis kitchingi (Coleoptera: Histeridae)

It may be difficult to tell, but this is actually a beetle. More specifically, it goes by the name of Eucurtiopsis kitchingi and is in the subfamily Chlamydopsinae of the Histeridae. It was very recently described (in September) by Alexey Tishechkin from material collected during the Santo 2006 expedition. Doesn't it look cool!

The Chlamydopsinae are an interesting group. Shunning the scavenging and predatory stereotype that the histerids have, the chlamydopsines cohabit with ants and termites, where they might feed on eggs and larvae. One species has also been observed riding on top of their host ants as a means of transport. Until recently, they were considered to be a relatively species-poor group, with only 47 species in 1997. However, the past 10 years has revealed a startling amount of diversity, particularly on the Pacific Islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and undoubtedly with more to be discovered in other regions also.

Unfortunately, nothing is known about the biology of E. kitchingi. It was collected in flight intercept traps, and was not detected in any of the ant nests the author investigated. At 1.5 mm in length, it's not going to make its presence felt, and is unlikely to be found serendipitously. This being said, ant research is an active area currently, and so it might pay for ant workers to keep these beetles in mind as they do their field work.

Caterino MS, Degallier N. 2007.A review of the biology and systematics of Chlamydopsinae (Coleoptera: Histeridae). Invertebrate Systematics 21: 1-28.

Tishechkin AK. 2009. Discovery of Chlamydopsinae (Insecta, Coleoptera, Histeridae) in Vanuatu with the description of eight new species from Espiritu Santo Island. Zoosystema 30(3) : 661-690.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Fire ant origins and genetics

The fire ant Wasmannia auropunctata is one of the most annoying things in the Solomon Islands. They have a very irritating and itchy bite, are so small as to be invisible, and they have a penchant for living in your underwear draw. Not pleasant. Unfortunately, they are another of the invasive species that have invaded the islands from elsewhere, in this case South America. They are found naturally through a large part of South America, from Argentina to the Caribbean islands. They have been introduced to a number of places, including Hawaii and the United States, Gabon in West Africa, and in the South Pacific both the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia.

To investigate where these ants came from, Alexander Mikheyev and Ulrich Mueller conducted a genetic study on a bunch of both natural and introduced populations of the fire ant. Looking at a little bit of the mitochondrial COI gene, they discovered that the Solomon Island populations have affinities with US and Hawaiian, and Northern South America and Caribbean populations. New Caledonian specimens were quite different, originating from southern natural populations in Argentina and Brazilian populations. Gabon has also been invaded by this group. This suggests that the two Pacific populations sampled were independantly derived, probably through trade or troop movements during WWII.

An assumption that I've usually made with invasive species in the Pacific is that they tend to do a bit of island-hopping, and in this case I would've hypothesised that the New Caledonian and Solomon Island populations would be the same. This is obviously not the case here, and it is a reminder that it's worth keeping in mind that there are many ways for organisms to get from place to place.

Mikheyev AS, Mueller UG. 2007. Genetic relationships between native and introduced populations of the little fire ant Wasmannia auropunctata. Diversity and Distributions 13:573-579.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Featured insect: Tossinola pamianorum (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae)

When the word 'wasp' is mentioned, people get scared as the image of angry yellow jackets or paper wasps is conjured up. When I tell people that I'm interested in them, they tend to respond with a sense of bewilderment and treat me as if I'm crazy.

The order Hymenoptera is one of the largest insect orders, being beaten only by the beetles. Of that, only a small proportion sting, bite or otherwise make a nuisance of themselves, the others minding their own business and performing their vital services to the environment. A good many of them are parasitoids of other insects, their young developing in eggs, larvae, pupae or adults of other species. Frequently, species are host-specific in that one species of parasitic wasp will only develop in a single species of insect.

The featured insect for today, Tossinola pamianorum was recently described from Colo-i-suva in Fiji by Andrew Bennett as a result of the Fijian Terrestrial Arthropod Survey. It is in the subfamily Banchinae of the family Ichneumonidae, which is not only one of the major wasp families, but is one of the largest families of insects in general. A rare species, it was described from seven species from the total haul of the survey. While the host is not yet known, other species in the same group lay their eggs in caterpillars. One particularly gruesome feature in this instance, is that the caterpillars continue to move, eat and grow despite being inhabited by a parasitic wasp...

What is particularly interesting about this species of wasp is that it is the first time this subfamily has been found in Fiji. The genus is also known from the Philippines, Central Asia and West Africa, so there's some huge gaps in the distribution of this species. The subfamily has no other representatives in the South Pacific, though there are a number in Australia and New Zealand, so it may well be that people haven't looked for them rather than that there are none there.

This is not surprising, as the Ichneumonidae has been very poorly worked on despite (or perhaps because of?) it's size and economic importance. A great thing about this paper is that it not only starts to reveal some of the ichnemonid diversity of the South Pacific, but it also provides a useful entry into the fascinating world of Ichneumonidae taxonomy in general. A very interesting and worthwhile publication.

Bennett AMR. 2009. The Ichneumonidae (Hymenoptera) of Fiji: keys to subfamilies and genera with a review of the species of Anomaloninae, Banchinae, Brachycyrtinbae and Diplazontinae. In: Evenhuis, N.L. & Bickel, D.J. (eds.), Fiji Arthropods XIV. Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 105: 3-68.

Monday, 12 October 2009

LaTeX tips and tricks

I have been using LaTeX for the past 10 months or so and have been really enjoying it. It's making the thesis writing process a delight for the most part, and produces some really nice output. Too nice sometimes as it can be easy to forget that the content is the important part!

Unfortunately, I have found installing packages on Linux to be a bit of a challenge. I installed the package manager MikTeX, but that's been playing up for some strange reason, so I'm going to try doing it manually. Thankfully there's some help available here.

Here's a couple of other resources on MikTex for linux and an introduction to table of contents formatting. I've also found the LaTeX Community Forum to be very helpful.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Carpophilus publications

Searching for things on Carpophilus species, I came across a couple of papers by Alexander Kirejtshuk on the things. There's one on the nitidulids of India and one on the African fauna.

I was also very interested to find a short report on nitidulid molecular systematics, as I have been completely unaware of any work that's being going on in that vein other than my own.

On the left is a beautiful picture of Carpophilus oculatus. Isn't it nice!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Santo 2006 results

In 2006, a major expedition to Espiritu Santo island in Vanuatu was undertaken, headed up by Phillipe Bouchet and a team from the French research organisation L'Institut de recherche pour le développement, (IRD). It was named, rather originally, Santo 2006. This was a massive effort that attempted to survey a transect across Vanuatu's largest and highest island.

The idea and scheme is cool. Unfortunately though, the results from the survey have been slow in coming out and has had many people concerned that this might be another one of those major biodiversity efforts that begin with a hiss and a roar and ends with an extended whimper as people and funding agencies realise that the process of figuring out what you've found takes a lot longer and is a lot slower than is expected.

Serendipitously, thanks to a friend who is mighty keen on dragonflies, I was able to come across some of the papers that are starting to trickle out. The most recent issue of Zoosystema, one of the publications of the
Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (MNHM), is chock full of Santo 2006 results.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Inkscape tutorials

A little while ago in a previous post about vector graphics, I complained that there weren't any good online tutorials on biological illustrating with Inkscape (or other vector graphics packages for that matter).

I still haven't found any with an explicit biological focus (except maybe how to draw a gherkin), however there are a few which may be useful:

How to trace and colour photos, creating a "hackergotchi";

The Inkscape tutorial blog;

and finally, some general tips and tricks.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Melicope: Hawaii's export to the Pacific

Over the years, the general consensus has been that islands of the Pacific, and particularly the incredibly isolated archipelago we fondly know as Hawaii have been the passive collectors of fauna and flora that have just happened to have swum, flown, drifted, or been blown onto their fair shores. It's generally been thought to have been a one-way process, that once something has arrived there, it settles down and makes the most of their tropical paradise. Something that those of us stuck in cold climates can relate to very well -- why would you want to leave a place that is extremely amiable and is yours for the taking?

However, recent systematic research on a number of organisms is starting to shake up this tidy story somewhat. It appears that we may have underestimated the ability of these islands to send their biota elsewhere.

The particular paper sparking this post, written by Danica Harbaugh and coauthors, features the shrub Melicope. It's widely distributed across Asia and the South Pacific, but has undergone an "explosive radiation" in Hawaii, with 47 species found in the group. As usual, the authors hypothesised that all Hawaiian species had originated from a single colonisation and formed a monophyletic group restricted to the islands. Data from a number of genes were analysed, and it was found that although it does seem to be the case that all Hawaiian Melicope were derived from a single colonisation, it hasn't remained stuck in the one place. Surprisingly, their data suggested that Hawaii has exported some of their plants to the Marquesas Islands, where they have subsequently speciated.

This data adds to the body of work that suggests that Pacific biogeography is a lot more dynamic and complicated than initially suspected. It is also another example of the very intriguing connection that exists between Hawaii and the Marquesas.

Harbaugh DT, Wagner EI, Allan GJ, Zimmer EA. 2009. The Hawaiian Archipleago is a stepping stone for dispersal in the Pacific: an example from the plant genus Melicope (Rutaceae). Journal of Biogeography 36: 230-241.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Tokelau Ant Communities

Tokelau is a small place, far away from anywhere. Unfortunately, like all Pacific Islands, it has been overrun by invasive ants, which have massive impacts on the ecosystem of the islands. Phil Lester and his crew from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand made the most of a bad thing and took the opportunity to investigate community structure and assembly processes on these islands. What they did which few others have done was investigate the effect of abundance on community assembly, as opposed to just recording which species are found in the same places as each other. As expected, they found that as the abundance of ants went up, the number of species present decreased.

The ant that was dominant, was the yellow crazy ant, Anoplolepis gracilipes. And boy, was it dominant! Maximum abundances were 100 times that of the most abundant species. Rather unsurprisingly, the authors comment that
"in high abundance, A. gracilipes was associated with reductions in the number of co-occurring species and their abundance."
In this research, the authors only looked at the effect on other ant, which are also introduced to Tokelau. However, the effect of the ants can be devestating. One of the most publicised crazy ant invasions is their effect on the ecosystem of Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, home to the charismatic red land crab. A couple of reports about the invasion in the popular press are this one from the ABC and a report from the Australian Government

PJ Lester, KL Abbott M Sarty and KC Burns. 2009. Competitive assembly of South Pacific invasive ant communities. BMC Ecology 9:3

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Pacific Regional Red List

The Red List, a rather grim survey of the state of the world's biodiversity that highlights which species are particularly under threat of extinction, is one of the signature products of the IUCN. It is global in scope which gives it wide applicability, but sometimes details get lost in the mass of data. For example a search of "Pacific" in the list results in 160 entries, a number of which are not taxa from the the Pacific Islands, and those that are are primarily made up of the French Polynesian species Partula land snails.

This month however, IUCN have reviewed a number of species in preparation for a regional red list for the South Pacific, and have published a draft available at this website. It's a decent piece of work: 3769 species have been assessed, of which (to look at the bright side of things!) 1605 are considered to be of least concern. The worrying thing is that nearly the equivalent number (1060) are considered to be in threat of extinction, 177 of which are critically so.

There has been some discussion about the usefulness and validity of these documents, particularly for non-vertebrates. I see with some mirth that they confidently state the estimated number of described species to be 4911 (love the precision!), and I like the comment "Even experts contributing to global species assessments are often unable to provide an accurate estimate of the number of known species". Even experts eh...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Fruit bats going the wrong way

A couple of years back, Jeremy Pulvers and Don Colgan published an interesting paper on the intriguing fruit bat genus Melonycteris, that is restricted to the Solomon Islands and the Bismarck Archipelago. The fascinating thing about this bat is that it is believed to be placed right at the base of the Megachiroptera (flying foxes and their ilk). Why it is that this supposedly old lineage is restricted to these isolated island groups is still unknown, but it is not alone in this pattern. In the birds, a number of the more ancient groups are found in and around New Guinea and the Australasian region.

This however, is not the thrust of the Pulvers and Colgan paper. What they did is look at the genetic systematics and variation within the genus, particularly the Solomon Island species. To summarise, they found that the Solomon species are a group separate from the single Bismarck species. What was more interesting was the pattern of relationships within the Solomon Islands population. They found that the species on Makira (San Cristobal) was sister to the rest, followed by the Malaitan species, then the species found in the New Georgia group. Choiseul, Isabel and Guadalcanal populations composed a single group and were the most derived.

What is interesting about this pattern is that it is the opposite of what would be expected from a simple dispersal model originating in the Bismarcks. If that was the case, you would expect the sequence to be essentially the opposite---New Georgia; Choiseul, Isabel and Guadalcanal; Malaita, then Makira.

There has been increasing evidence from birds that the "Dispersal from New Guinea" model of the makeup of the Solomon Island fauna is not the only story, but as far as I'm aware, this is the first publication of evidence in vertebrates other than birds.

Pulvers JN, Colgan DJ. 2007. Molecular phylogeography of the fruit bat genus Melonycteris in northern Melanesia. Journal of Biogeography 34:713-723.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Prescient Baron

"We put in at Namuka Bay ... and there visited the Navesi saw-pits. The owner ... has acquired considerable knowledge of the native timber. He says that if people were not so prejudiced he could prove to them that Fiji produces wood equal to any imported. As yet much of the forest is untouched, but the supply in an island the size of Viti Levu, especially when considerable tracts of its surface are bare, can by by no means inexhaustible. An instance in point; the sandalwood forests of Vanua Levu, which first brought the Fijian Islands into note by attracting traders to their shores, have for some time ceased to exist, and the trees have been felled so assiduously as almost to exterminate the Santalum yasi in this island. This is a fact that ought not to be lost sight of, and the sooner stringent laws are brought into force for the regulation of tree felling, the better for the future prospects of the colony."
The Baron Anatole von Hügel wrote these words on his trip from Levuka to Sigatoka in 1875. He spent two years in Fiji collecting birds and buying traditional objects for the Cambridge Museum. His journals are a fascinating and informative read of Fiji in the early days of colonisation.

His remarks above are remarkably foresighted, but have sadly gone unheeded. No doubt if he were around to visit Fiji today both him and his sawmilling friend would be dismayed to find extensive plantations of mahogany and pine, and very little legislation protecting and regulating logging.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Roth J and Hooper S (Eds). 1990. The Fiji Journals of Baron Anatole von Hügel. Fiji Museum, Suva.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The bizarre family of the Silktail

The silktail (Lamprolia victoriae) is a small bush bird, restricted to the Fijian islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni. From its first description in 1874 its systematic position has been debated with suggested closest relatives ranging from the australian robins (Petroicidae), and the monarch flycatchers (Monarchidae), to the birds of paradise (Paradisaeidae). The late, great Ernst Mayr famously called the silktail "One of the most puzzling birds of the world". Last year, a group of european, american and south african scientists headed up by Martin Irestedt brought DNA evidence to the party to shed further light on the subject. Their results were published here.

What they discovered was totally unexpected. Their data suggests that the closest living relative to the silktail is the Papuan mountain drongo (PMD, Chaetorhynchus papuensis), a little-known bird of the New Guinea highlands. The PMD has traditionally been grouped with the drongos (Dicruridae), but in the Irestedt study, both the silktail and PMD are sister to the fantail family (Rhipiduridae).

The authors discuss at length the biogeographic implications of their finding, suggesting either long distance dispersal or a vicariant metapopulation origin, but are unable to come to a conclusion either way. Unfortunately, they don't suggest ways of testing these hypotheses. I suggets it may be a little premature to speculate too seriously about this single result, interesting though it is. Future work on the geology of the region and further systematic research on the silktail and the remainder of the avifauna of Melanesia may reveal other potential explanations.

Irestedt M., Ruchs J., Jonsson K., Ohlson J. I., Pasquet E., Ericson P. G. P. (2008) The systematic affinity of the enigmatic Lamprolia victoriae (Aves: Passeriformes) - An example of avian dispersal between New Guinea and Fiji over Miocene intermittent land bridges? Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 48: 1218-1222

Picture courtesy of Birdlife International

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature

This is a site that I always try to find when I'm wanting a bit of light humour. It is a list of humorous scientific names of all sorts of taxa. In here you discover that Nirvana is a leafhopper, Dracula is an orchid, and the moth Dyaria was named in 'honor' of one Mr Dyar...

It's funny.


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Reef fish phylogeny and connectivity

A paper on the intraspecific phylogeny of the damsel fish Pomacentrus moluccensis was published the other day by Joshua Drew and Paul Barber as a short communication in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. This paper is well worth reading as it demonstrates that specimens from Fiji form a monophyletic sister group to those from further west. Vanuatu species are also monophyletic, while those from the Solomons to Sumatra form a third, most derived clade.

What makes this interesting is that this runs counter to the traditionally accepted mode of dispersal in the Pacific, where the area around New Guinea and Indonesia act as a source area for the remainder of the Pacific.

As the authors point out, this story is based only on mitochondrial DNA sequences, and as such only tell a partial story of P. moluccensis' history. More data may change the story somewhat, but the results published here are intruiging and will hopefully stimulate further investigation.


Picture stolen from the Encyclopedia of Life (http://eol.org/pages/212092)

Monday, 27 July 2009

Ubuntu, Vista and partitions

In the weekend someone decided that they should have my computer instead of me. This reminded me of GK Chesterton's famous quote
Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.

Or possibly make a quick buck. I'm keeping an eye on Trademe...

However, every cloud has a silver lining, and this one is that I'm able to justify buying a new computer. It also allows me to fulfill my desire to try out Linux, and so I've done it in the form of dual-booting my new laptop with the pre-loaded Vista, with the latest and greatest Ubuntu 9.04. Lots of teething issues of course, but it's been pretty good over the past 12 hours or so...

The key one though is partitioning. I want to have a main, large, data partition that would be accessible by both Vista and Linux. I am currently using Gparted to accomplish this, and have found this tutorial rather helpful.

I've found that defragging the hard drive might be the way to go to get Vista's portion of the hard drive down. Alternatively, I might use get rid of Ubuntu for a little while and make the partitions initially using Gparted.

A couple of hours later:
After talking to colleagues, it seems that the best thing to do might be to mount the Windows hard drive to Ubuntu, as described here and here. And though I thought that Ubuntu came with ntsf read/write ability as a default, this suggests otherwise.

And a few more, possibly useful, links:
Partitioning using Gparter
The ntfs-config package

That's the journey thus far! For the record, I'm installing Ubuntu 9.04, and I'm using a Toshiba satellite L300 preloaded with Vista....

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Biological graphics and illustration

Illustration is a key part of biological communication, and is particularly important in taxonomic descriptions where subtle differences in shape can be the best definition of a species. Body elongate, gradually and almost uninterruptedly narrowed towards the front anyone?

For this reason, I've recently been playing around with graphics a bit and have been learning about the different formats and their strengths and weaknesses. In particular, I'm starting to get rather excited about using vector graphics for the line illustrations that are so useful for species descriptions. The biggest obstacle that I can see is drawing from the specimen in question into the computer program. I'm not sure how the best way of going about this is. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be widespread awareness of the benefits of vector graphics, and there are no tutorials that I've found on biological illustration using vector graphics.

There is however this very good introduction to modifying photographs for publication in the brilliant Zootaxa.

If you're wondering, I use GIMP for modifying bitmaps, and Inkscape for vector graphics.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Proc. Roy. Soc. special issue on the Solomons

While searching for a paper on insect distribution on the Solomon Islands, I came across the 1969 special issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society A on aspects of the biology and geology of what was then known as the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. It's an eclectic mix - articles include details on the soil, vegetation, fungi, Collembola, molluscs and shoreline ecology of the islands.

Unfortunately though, the articles aren't available for the general public - articles are only available with a subscription, or if you want to fork out some hard-earned cash to see the article. The latter option may or may not be too bad, but they don't make it easy to find out exactly what it'll cost you to see each article. Experience with previous journals would suggest it could be rather excessive - I've seen some which try and charge $25-30 USD for a 10-page article... Not my idea of a bargain.

It's great this issue is online. It is rather unadvertised and unknown (at least... I've never come across it before...), but it is a shame that it's not freely available. Oh well.....

Friday, 15 May 2009

Japanese Weevil database

As some might have guessed from reading other articles on the blog, I have a rather soft spot for the Curculionoidea. Weevils with their snouts and their amazing variety of shapes and sizes are incredibly cool. Funnily enough though, they remain comparatively neglected by biologists. It's good to see that the excellent Japanese curculiologists Katsura Morimoto and Hiroaki Kojima are adressing this problem with the Japanese Weevil Database. All the navigation is in Japanese, but it's pretty easy to find your way around even if your knowledge of Japanese leaves a lot to be desired. I'm mainly impressed by the scope of the site and the pretty pictures...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


I have recently been getting more interested in morphometric analysis, in particular shape and colour analysis. Turns out that they teach a course on this stuff at Imperial College and the Natural History Museum in London. Not only that, but they put all their teaching material online. It's good stuff. Good stuff that is if you like seeing lots of mathematical formulas and multivariate statistics....

Update: I've just come across this site which is maintained by James Rohlf, one of the big names in morphometrics. Rather useful!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Beetle pictures from Southeast Asia

While researching for an upcoming talk, I found the following webpage:

It's pretty cool. It's got very good pictures of over 2000 specimens from 71 different families of weevils. It's also got a very cool and useful interactive locality map which allows you to quickly find specimens from areas of interest. It's based on the Drupal website system, which I personally find rather clunky, but it is free, open source and reasonably easy to develop in.

This site is also another example of the importance of taxonomy, and how much needs to be done in biodiversity-rich regions like Southeast Asia. Comparatively few of the beetles featured have been identified to species level, no doubt due to a combination of there being no relevant specialists and there being a large amount of work to describing new species and revising previous species hypotheses.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

ACIAR publications

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, better known as ACIAR publish a range of books dealing with crop protection, animal husbandry and other aspects of agriculture. They have a strong Southeast Asia and Pacific focus. Even better, many of their books are available for free downloading from their website.

Some of the selection includes:
TaroPest: An illustrated guide to pests and diseases of Taro in the South Pacific
A diagnostic field guide for one of the most iconic and staple foods of the Islands

Gardens of Oceania
A summary of gardening practises in the Pacific (Vanuatu in particular) plus descriptions of the plant species grown and notes on their uses.

Guidelines for Survelliance of Plant Pests in Asia and the Pacific
A good overview of the steps to developing monitoring and detection surveys. Unfortunately, the sections on analysing and reporting are rather scant. This is a shame because in my experience, this is where the professionalism of South Pacific science tends to tail off. Collecting data is great, but to go the whole distance, it needs to be analysed and published.

There is also an interesting quirk in the typesetting of the book in that the string "fi" does not show up. A bit annoying when dealing with the "Paci c" region and telling people about "con dence" intervals.

These criticisms aside, it's great that these very informative and helpful publications are available freely online. May the good times continue!

Monday, 12 January 2009

American Museum Novitates

When I was a young kid, growing up in the Solomon Islands and mighty interested in birds, a man who was mentoring me sent me a photocopy of an issue of the American Museum Novitates. It was on the whistlers (Pachycephala spp.) of the Solomons by Ernst Mayr based on the results from the Whitney South Sea Expedition. It was the first proper scientific paper I had read, and I was stoked. I accumulated more which still remain some of my treasured possessions.

It is now very convenient (though slightly less exciting) that the American Museum Novitates are now online. There's a very handy search tool which makes things very easy. It's also an easy navigation to other publications of the American Museum of Natural History.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Marshall Islands Biodiversity report

It would appear that the UN Development Program has looked at the biodiversity of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. At least, they've got a report to that effect. After a lot of fluffing around when I stumbled across the appendices of the report, I finally managed to find the contents page with actual links:

It's worth a look, particularly because it has the brilliant Marshallese phrase "Eruj in jebarbar" - Excited like a reef crab. Use that in your next conversation....

Another project of the UNDP has completed was the "South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Programme" - its writeup is found here.